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I know that love exists, it’s asleep with the fishes down in Atlantis

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Nazareth, Pennsylvania

 

Castiel dragged his fingers across the limestone, feeling the smooth sandpaper and rough discolored ridges. He walked farther and farther down the massive rock, halting his fingers when police tape was prominent in his eyeline.

His hand dropped to his side, and he crouched to observe the spattering of crimson fanning from the bottom of the limestone upwards.

The zombies were getting feral with their kills.

A police light flashed across Castiel’s vision, and the county sheriff stepped out of the car. As if one half of the same organism, Dean and Sam approached the sheriff to converse in their classic FBI personas.

Castiel filtered out the noise, and heard Dean answer the sheriff’s question about his purpose. Dean called him a “special expert” or something, and the sheriff turned away from the ‘strange man’ in the trench coat.

It had been over a month since he burned Jack’s body and the zombies rose, but Castiel could find no rhyme or reason to the killings. The zombies were choosing random civilians across the country to cannibalize at night. This made anyone who so much as stepped foot in darkness a possible victim.

And while the zombies were originally monsters in life, they were something quite different in death. The usual weapons used to kill them didn’t exactly work. More force had to be applied to make their deaths permanent.

Normal weapons were all they had. They were just using more bullets and ruining more blades. It was hard enough to keep up with their own demands. Castiel caught Dean and Sam running themselves ragged trying to uncover more silver and sharpen more stakes and melt down more bullets.

Ever since Jack’s death, though, Castiel stopped caring about their wellbeing as much. It was a waste of time and energy. The brothers would pass out every night eventually, and arguing about it would just slow down the natural process.

Still, Castiel did not leave during case work. He only flew away when they were digging for more neurotic instances of murder. The research was something Dean and Sam could handle on their own.

And despite Castiel confessing to Dean that he didn’t love him anymore, when Dean was completely oblivious to his feelings in the first place, Castiel’s heart ached.

He knew what he did what the right call, but that didn’t make it hurt any less.

It didn’t help that Dean always tried to get Castiel alone to talk. But Castiel knew that no amount of discussion could change his mind.

Castiel heard the car door slam as a disgruntled sheriff buckled up in his police vehicle. Dean and Sam wore matching frowns as they spun to meet up with Castiel.

Castiel realized he had been staring at the murder scene for an inordinate amount of time. He rose gracefully from his crouched position, squinting his eyes to account for the sun off to the side.

“Anything, Cas?” Sam asked, being the neutral party in this situation.

Castiel didn’t so much as glance in Dean’s direction as he replied, “it must have been a small pack that...pushed Miss Williams down and held her there. It’s the most likely way to get these marks on the limestone.”

“What kind of pack, d’you think?” Dean observed the crime scene demurely. “Vamps? Werewolves? Could be plenty of different things.”

“That’s what the morgue is for,” Castiel said, a cutting edge to his words. He started to glide towards the Impala and said, “let’s go.”

As Castiel clicked open the Impala back seat door, he caught the brothers sharing a look. They quickly slid into their usual seats before Castiel could grow impatient.

The ride was quiet save for the rock music that Dean always played. Castiel thinks it’s Led Zeppelin for this ride. He recognized one of the songs from his mixtape.

He shouldn’t think about that mixtape. It was one of the many times he thought Dean was finally going to express himself and pierce through the tension. That was all over, now.

Dean and Sam flashed their fake badges at the morgue and got clearance to see the body.

When they were alone with it, Castiel declared, “a werewolf pack.”

“Good thing I just melted silver bullets last night,” Sam said. “They’re in the trunk.”

After returning to the Impala and opening the back, Castiel noticed four guns instead of their usual two.

He blinked over at Sam, who said, “Dean’s idea. He wanted you to be protected.”

Castiel narrowed his eyes at Dean, who was in the front seat loading up ammunition. He watched Dean mechanically slide silver bullets into his preferred pistol, his gaze purposefully averted from Castiel’s.

Castiel pressed his lips together and grabbed the two extra guns. He found a handful of ammunition and slotted in bullets quicker than Sam was expecting, based on Sam’s wide eyes. Castiel secured the bullets with two hand swipes, both guns clicking shut at the same time.

At the sound, Castiel caught Dean’s gaze flicker towards him, eyes widening in surprise like Sam’s.

Castiel ignored them both and slipped the guns on the inside of his trenchcoat. They kept his multiple angel blades company.

He had no idea how he used to travel around with a single angel blade.

Castiel clicked open the car door and saw Sam share a look with Dean. It was what Dean called Sam’s “bitchface.”

Since Castiel didn’t care about family drama anymore, he slid into the back seat and waited for the trunk to close.

Castiel had been doing this for weeks. He could tell it bothered them, but he decided he was going to put himself first.

No more would he be the Winchester’s punching bag.

They found the zombie werewolves on the outskirts of town at midnight. Castiel found that having two guns was actually quite helpful.

And he refused to entertain what Dean’s gaping mouth meant when Castiel saved him from two werewolves.

————

North Cove, Washington

 

Castiel secured the last picture frame in bubble wrap, struggling with a piece of tape to keep it shut. The stickiness remained on his thumb pad, and he rubbed it away on his index finger.

He packed the wrapped frame in a box, the final item that could fit inside. He looked up and around the walls, realizing that every wall in Kelly’s house was finally stripped bare.

Castiel ripped off a large section of duct tape from the near-empty roll, smoothing it over the top of the box.

He had used one of his fake ID’s to purchase a permanent place in a storage facility. He wanted to keep all of Kelly’s and Jack’s belongings in a safe place, not where their memory will rot in a house located in the middle of the woods.

When Castiel was gone, and he let his reaper take him to the Empty, he wanted the memory of the Klines to remain grounded.

Castiel drifted about the two-story house, observing the furniture that he draped plastic over, knowing he would have to dispose of it somehow. The last of the boxes were stacked in the middle of the living room, prepared for Castiel to drive them to the storage warehouse.

His phone rang, and he gasped when he saw the caller ID.

Castiel brought the touch screen to his cheek and said incredulously, “it worked, didn’t it?”

There was a flap of wings, and the archangel he thought was dead was there, beaming at him proudly.

“Cassie,” Gabriel laughed shortly, his golden brown eyes sparkling as he hung up the phone, “you brilliant genius!”

Castiel hung up his end of the call as an afterthought, observing Gabriel in disbelief.

A few weeks earlier, Castiel and Rowena began working on a way to revive lost angels. Since Gabriel was lost in another dimension, they decided this would be their focal point. With Heaven’s gate closed, they needed to bring Gabriel back.

Castiel left Rowena to agonize over the problem in between zombie hunts with the Winchesters. So far, Castiel hadn’t garnered any suspicion from Dean or Sam about what they would consider a betrayal.

But Castiel didn’t care about what they thought anymore. Calling him a traitor was easier for them than seeing the truth: that he was the only person they could trust in the whole wide world.

Rowena finally found the spell! She finally plucked Gabriel out and shut the door before more problems could arise!

And she somehow found a way to wake him up. Castiel decided that he didn’t want to know how she did it.

Gabriel was suddenly hugging him tightly, Castiel hanging onto him awkwardly. Affection was strange for him, even after all this time on Earth.

Gabriel’s grin filled Castiel’s vision as he pulled back. “How are you? How long have I been gone?”

“Um,” Castiel counted, “a year and a half.”

“Ah,” Gabriel waved a dismissive hand, “a mere millisecond. Why do you look so sad, huh?” His eyes caught up with his surroundings, and he glanced around at the bare house. “Where are we?”

“Kelly Kline’s house,” Castiel murmured, his lip quivering. “I lost him, Gabe.”

Gabriel’s grin was dashed from his face. “Jack?” He huffed. “Shit. I’m...shit. I’m sorry.”

Castiel didn’t miss the hollowness in his tone, and knew that Gabriel didn’t understand. A part of him was glad Gabriel didn’t.

“Do you know why Rowena and I brought you back?” Castiel asked.

Gabriel nodded, and his face fell. He looked his age suddenly, the humorous glint in his eyes extinguished with the weight of his responsibility.

“There are two good angels that I killed years ago to save myself,” Castiel said, “and I want you to get them.”

“They’re probably in the Empty,” Gabriel furrowed his brows, “so I can’t help you.”

“They aren’t,” Castiel said. “Balthazar and Samandriel were too smart for that.”

At their names, Gabriel’s eyes widened. “Oh,” he chuckled, “you’re absolutely right. Those two are slippery. I love ‘em.”

“So will you do it?”

“What’s in it for me, little brother?”

“You get to be Heaven’s savior,” Castiel offered, even though he knew that meant nothing to Gabriel.

The archangel scoffed. “What else do ya got?”

“You’ll get to save the world from zombie monsters.”

Gabriel blinked, tilting his ear towards Castiel. “What was that? I must have misheard you.”

“You didn’t,” Castiel said.

Gabriel narrowed his eyes up at Castiel. “I missed a lot in that millisecond, huh? Okay.” He sighed. “Time to save the world, I guess.”

————

Canaan, Vermont

 

Castiel flew to the back alley of a diner with a beat of his wings. There was hardly anyone in the quiet streets of the small town, even though it was lunch hour.

He rounded the back of the restaurant and pushed open the door. The bell chimed, and a curvy brunette woman chirped a hello.

A hand went up in the corner booth, and Castiel glided to the Winchester’s booth. Since Sam looked eager to see him, Castiel sat on Sam’s side of the booth.

He didn’t look at Dean’s expression.

“Hey,” Sam greeted, “how are you? It’s been a week since the last case.”

Castiel realized that Dean rarely asked him how he was doing. It was usually Sam that was the more considerate one of the two.

“I’ve been busy,” he replied casually. Castiel cleared his throat, deciding to return the gesture smoothly. “And you?”

“We’ve been cooped up,” Sam said. “What have you been doing?”

“He’s probably running from place to place,” Dean cut in, “nothing except run away from us.”

Sam’s jaw clenched, his blue eyes sharper than steel as he swiveled his head towards Dean. His gaze sliced into his brother’s face like knives, but Dean was ready for a challenge. He didn’t look away from Castiel, his arms folded.

Castiel couldn’t help the laugh that bubbled up from his throat and fell past his teeth. Sam’s head shot towards Castiel, blinking in surprise at what could be considered an amused chuckle.

Castiel absently realized that he had never laughed in front of them before. Eleven years, and he had never laughed in front of them before.

In fact, he hasn’t laughed in years. Even if it was one meant to cut Dean deep.

Castiel finally turned the full weight of his gaze on Dean, icy blue eyes boring into emerald green ones. He could see Dean squirm a little in the booth, and he fought back the urge to laugh again.

“I have a life outside of you, Dean,” Castiel said. “As hard as it is for you to believe, I do not exist merely to be at your beck and call.”

Both brothers winced visibly at that.

Castiel’s head turned towards Sam. “Since you asked so nicely,” he said, “you should know that Gabriel is alive.”

He watched Sam’s eyes widen. He watched the information enter his ears and register in his mind. He watched Sam exhale, perhaps for the first time in years.

Castiel had thought he imagined Sam’s connection with Gabriel. It could not be explained, but it was there, a visceral beast that could not be tamed.

Funny how Castiel once thought of Dean the same way.

“Really?” Sam breathed incredulously. “He’s safe?”

Maybe Sam and Gabriel would have better luck.

Castiel offered him a meek half-smile that he hoped reassured Sam. “He’s safe. I’m sure you’ll run into him sooner or later.”

Sam half-smiled back, but once he caught Dean’s frantic gaze, he schooled his expression. Dean stared between the two for a few beats, as if trying to decipher multiple things at once.

Castiel cleared his throat. “So what do you have for me?”

Since Dean was reeling from whatever was going on in his mind, Sam pulled out files and gave Castiel the run-down.

————

Jamestown, North Dakota

 

Castiel double locked the motel room door behind him. “How are we, Rowena?”

Rowena was crisscrossed on the bedspread, herbs and a smoking bowl of incense around her. Her eyes were serpent green, focusing on the spell while the smoke turned a putrid color.

“Heaven’s gate is cracked open,” Rowena said, “and the archangel uncovered a conspiracy.”

Castiel leaned on the edge of the opposite bed, his interest piqued. “A conspiracy?”

“Apparently,” Rowena said, “not all angels who die by blade go to the Empty.”

Castiel’s eyes widened. “They go back to Heaven?! Where?”

“They have their own rooms,” Rowena said, “among the humans. Ingenious,” her green eyes turned a shade blue, “isn’t it?”

Castiel looked up at the ceiling, hope flooding through him for the first time in ages. “This is great news.”

“It’s not often that you win,” Rowena said. “I must say, tweetie pie,” Castiel rolled his eyes at the nickname, “I’m happy for you.”

The green smoke turned blue, like Rowena’s eyes, and the ceiling opened up.

Castiel rose to his feet while Rowena concentrated, the portal opening wider and wider. He stepped away from the empty bed, hearing yelling as someone fell.

A man crashed onto the mattress, and Castiel grinned when he saw who it was.

The slender man coughed, shaking plaster dust out of his floppy brown hair. His huge dark eyes opened, and he shot out of the bed, gaze settling on Castiel.

A dizzying grin dominated Samandriel’s face, and he exclaimed, “Castiel!”

“Driel,” Castiel said fondly. “I’m sorry about-”

“It’s okay!” Samandriel said earnestly, standing up shakily. “I know it wasn’t personal.”

A second man fell out of the portal, coughing on the pillow as he landed.

“What in the,” a Scottish voice said, Rowena blinking over at the foreign accent.

The man coughed again, carding a hand through bleach blonde hair. Tired salient eyes saw Castiel, and rolled out of bed.

“Cassie?” Balthazar comprehended his presence slowly. His silver jewelry glinted in the blinking motel light, dark clothing shadowing his aged features. “What is going on?”

The final figure crashed on the bed, falling on his back. Gabriel cheekily landed gracefully, and his gaze met Rowena’s.

She ended her hold on the ethereal realm, the portal closing and the smoke dissipating, her irises going back to their usual hazel.

Gabriel laughed, rising from the bed. “You missed all the fun, Cassie! That was awesome!”

“Hello, birdies,” Rowena purred.

Samandriel leaned back against the bed. “Uh,” he held up a finger, “Gabe, why is there a witch here?”

“Rowena’s fine,” Gabriel snorted, “promise.”

Samandriel blinked over at Castiel. “Is she really?”

Castiel shrugged.

“Well,” Balthazar beamed at Rowena, “I have no qualms about it. You don’t look a day over two hundred.”

Rowena blushed, hand over her heart. “Oh, aren’t you sweet.”

“Okay, Cassie,” Gabriel garnered the attention of the other angels with his commanding tone, “take to the floor. Now what?”

“In case Gabe didn’t tell you,” Castiel said to his brothers, “Earth is currently being overtaken by zombie monsters.”

Balthazar snickered. “Yeah right.”

Castiel didn’t say anything for a moment.

Balthazar blinked. “Wait...seriously?”

“Turns out God isn’t so gracious,” Gabriel said. “It was hard enough breaking you guys out without him detecting.”

“Wait,” Samandriel said incredulously, “God is evil now?!”

“Afraid so,” Gabriel replied, “not that I’m surprised. The old man’s gone mad.”

“He wants to erase the world,” Castiel clarified, “and start it all the way from the beginning, thereby erasing everyone. Even us.”

“So you want soldiers,” Samandriel said.

“I wanted,” Castiel emphasized, “my brothers back.”

“The good ones, anyway,” Gabriel muttered.

“I trust both of you implicitly,” Castiel said genuinely, “and you know why. We’ve been through a lot together. We have the power to end this.”

“But without ending the world?” Balthazar huffed. “That’s a tall order.”

“Which is why we’ll need more angels,” Gabriel agreed, “but a barbershop quartet is fine for now.”

Rowena giggled. “That’s a lovely image. Good speech, tweetie pie.” She smiled at Castiel. “And since I have nothing better to do, I’ll offer my services.”

“So,” Gabriel rubbed his hands together, “let’s get this party started.”

————

Alliance, Nebraska

 

Castiel’s shoes sank into the dirty snow, crunching loudly to indicate his arrival at the bar. He had never been happier that the biting chill didn’t bother him.

It didn’t stop Jimmy’s cheeks, as deceased as he was, from tingeing pink.

The Impala doors open and shut in tandem, the Winchesters in their normal plaid and jeans.

“You didn’t have to wait,” Castiel said, “if you’re cold.”

“It’s fine, Cas,” Dean said, “it’s only been a few minutes.”

Castiel noticed how uncharacteristically shy Dean was being, his tone meek, his lashes downturned, his head ducking a little. Dean’s gaze slid over to the pinkness on Castiel’s cheeks, as if seeing it for the first time, and he cleared his throat softly.

Dean was blushing.

Castiel curtly walked towards the bar entrance, Sam following a pace before Dean caught up.

Dean picked a booth and Sam ordered beers, Castiel sitting on Dean’s opposite side. When Sam returned to the booth sans alcohol, Dean looked at him incredulously. Sam shrugged and said, “it’s coming in a minute.”

Sam slid in on Dean’s side, and Castiel nearly smiled at how Sam’s body crushed Dean’s in the unusually small space.

“So, uh,” Sam cleared his throat, “how are things?”

“Good,” Castiel replied. “I’ve been...getting a few wins.”

At the terminology, Dean’s brow quirked upwards. He said nothing.

“How are things with you?” Castiel asked.

“We were just in Sioux Falls,” Sam said, “and it seems the wayward sisters have everything covered there.”

“How’s Claire?” Castiel inquired lightly.

“Fierce as ever,” Sam said with a weak chuckle.

“Good. That’s good.”

They were interrupted by a scantily clad waitress bringing over three light beers. Castiel noted that he had never seen Dean drink a light beer.

And he also noted that the waitress was giving Dean an invitation with her eyes.

But Dean didn’t notice. He stared at his beer once it was dropped on the table, then back at Castiel.

He was only looking at Castiel. Only him.

Castiel caught the waitress pout at the lack of attention and saunter away. He kept his expression carefully blank, but he knew Sam noticed the exchange.

Sam gaped for a split second, but forced his jaw shut and said nothing about it.

“It looks like vamps this time, right?” Castiel prompted, tipping back the light beer.

They had rarely seen him eat or drink before, and Castiel stifled an amused chuckle at their reactions.

The beer tasted like air particles with a sharp tang. Castiel decided he liked it.

“Right,” Sam cleared his throat again, “all three victims were overwhelmed by a pack. All three of their necks had punctures resembling fangs.”

“Well,” Castiel said, “I have more stakes.”

————

Carthage, Missouri

 

The roar of a motorcycle engine filled Castiel’s ears, and he turned his head towards the sound.

Castiel narrowed his eyes while rising from the picnic table, unimpressed as Gabriel parked the monstrous contraption and removed his helmet.

“Cassie!” Gabriel grinned. “Ride with me!”

Castiel shook his head and frowned.

Gabriel snapped his fingers loudly, materializing a sapphire and charcoal motorcycle out of thin air.

And Castiel hated to admit it, but the motorcycle was beautiful.

“Is this more your style?” Gabriel chuckled, knowing from Castiel’s expression that he got it right. “Come on,” he materialized a black helmet and held it out, “don’t be shy. Let’s ride into town!”

Castiel huffed and rolled his eyes, grasping the outstretched helmet. The excess padding was snug around his head, his hair flattening across his ears and eyebrows.

“Know what else ya need?” Gabriel snapped his fingers again, a black leather jacket replacing his tan trench coat.

Castiel scowled, sliding up the helmet’s glass plating. “You better not have ruined my coat.”

“It’s fine!” Gabriel held out the leather jacket, which Castiel noticed had powder blue angel wings embroidered across the upper back. “It’s safe in the ether. Now try this on.”

Castiel snatched the jacket and grumbled while putting it on, “why do I humor you, Gabe?”

“Because I’m your favorite brother!”

Castiel sighed and cast the leather jacket over his shoulders. “Are we done now?”

Gabriel chuckled. “That looks fantastic on you. I regret nothing.”

Castiel went over to his motorcycle and cast one leg on the opposite end, feeling like he was riding a horse. He was hoping it was a similar principle.

He revved up the engine, catching Gabriel’s grin as he put on his helmet. Castiel slid down the glass plating in his own helmet, praying to whatever power left that he didn’t crash.

Gabriel set off onto the road, Castiel glimpsing golden wings sewn onto his leather jacket. He snorted to himself and started riding, overly cautious as he followed his older brother.

After a mile, Castiel got the hang of handling the machine, revving faster and catching up with Gabriel. He heard Gabriel’s laughter from underneath his helmet, as if saying ‘I told you this is fun!’

Castiel allowed himself to smile, glad that his helmet hid his delight.

They rode into town a few minutes later, getting looks from bystanders at the ruckus they were causing in such a quiet environment.

Castiel found that he didn’t care.

They parked outside the town’s only bar, and Gabriel whipped off his helmet, his face flushed from adrenaline. “Isn’t that rush amazing, Cassie?”

Castiel unlatched his helmet and allowed Gabriel to see his smile.

“Yes! A smile!” Gabriel clapped his shoulder. “I knew I’d get one outta you!”

They set their helmet on the motorcycle handles, Gabriel guiding Castiel inside the bar. Castiel noted a neon sign resembling angel wings above the bar, and he snorted.

“Bal is whipping us up his signature cocktail,” Gabriel said, “while we wait for our new arrivals.”

Huh?

Before Castiel could open his mouth to ask, Gabriel waved at Samandriel. “Hey, Driel!”

Samandriel smiled kindly at the duo as they took bar stools beside him, Gabriel between them.

“How was Lebanon?” Samandriel asked Gabriel.

“Boring,” Gabriel replied curtly, Castiel raising an eyebrow.

Did Gabriel go see Sam?

“How was the Poconos?” Gabriel asked Samandriel.

“A big old bag of fun,” Samandriel said sarcastically. “I sliced up twenty of those ungodly monsters, though.”

“Niiiiice,” Gabriel said. “How many zombies have you sliced, Cassie?”

“In Alliance?” Castiel counted. “Twenty-five.”

“By yourself?” Samandriel whistled. “Wow.”

“Okay,” Balthazar appeared from the back of the bar, carrying pink-colored cocktails, “who’s ready to try something so fruity that I got several men to change their sexual preferences?”

Castiel scoffed. “Thanks for that mental image, Bal.”

Balthazar grinned and set down the cocktails, and Castiel noticed there were two extra.

“Why are there two-” He began.

The bar doors opened, and the Winchesters stepped inside.

Castiel gaped at Gabriel. “Why are they here?”

Balthazar and Samandriel glanced at Castiel incredulously. They probably thought he would be happy to see Sam and Dean. Specifically Dean.

But no. Castiel would have to go into the whole ‘thing’ with them after this hunt.

“Hey, Gabriel,” Sam said, Castiel observing a light blush, visible even beneath the neon signs.

“Hi,” Gabriel said, sipping his cocktail and making a noise of surprise. “This is good, Bal!”

“It’s why I’ve been brought back,” Balthazar joked. “Hey Winchesters. Not dead yet, huh?”

Castiel realized suddenly that Dean had been staring at him for quite some time. He tipped back the cocktail and narrowed his eyes at Dean. “Is something the matter?”

Dean blinked as if he had shut down entirely, and had to wake up again. “No. Uh...no.” He rubbed the back of his neck, and Castiel thinks he has a blush too. “I just um,” he motioned to the jacket, “that’s new.”

“Astute observation,” Castiel said in his old emotionless voice.

No one said anything for a beat, and Castiel finished off the cocktail. Neither Sam or Dean went to take theirs, lingering by the stools awkwardly.

Castiel felt his brothers’ eyes on him, but he was glad their curiosity would have to be tabled for later.

He set down the empty glass, and Gabriel said, “well, dearly beloved, we have gathered here today to kick some zombie ass. Since they have chosen to amass in Carthage, we are here to take out as many as we can without causing this town to flip the fuck out. Are we in agreement?”

“I expect,” Balthazar grinned, “a full-on bar brawl. Do not disappoint me.”

“Cassie, Driel,” Gabriel addressed the duo, “how are we with weapons?”

“I have enough machetes in a storage facility uptown to film a Jackie Chan movie,” Castiel said.

The reference got Dean and Sam to blink in pure shock. They had no idea how Castiel knew about martial arts movies, or that he even watched them.

“My truck is basically a mobile gun store,” Samandriel reported. “Getting guns in Texas was easier than it should be.”

“Okay,” Gabriel said, “then we’re all ready.”

As they waited for day to become night, Castiel ensured he stayed near one of his brothers at all times. He didn’t feel like talking to Dean, or starting a conversation where Castiel already knew how it ended.

By the time all the zombies were massacred, the sun was rising on a new day.

And Castiel normally didn’t believe in miracles, but coming away with only a few scrapes sure was lucky.

————

Battle Creek, Michigan

 

Castiel sat in the middle of a grass field, coughing up a lung as he gained his bearings. An incredibly fast vetala knocked the wind out of him, but Dean stabbed it in the back before it could bite him.

He started to breathe normally again, but he didn’t make to stand. He scrubbed his stubble, and blood came off in his finger pads.

He touched his nose, and winced when he felt it bleeding. At least it wasn’t broken.

He tasted copper on his tongue, and he swallowed it down.

Since Castiel was having a bad day, Dean decided to grace him with his presence. Dean knelt a respectful distance away from Castiel, his clothes covered with monster blood. A bruise on his cheek made his blonde hair and green eyes stick out more in the evening light.

“Are you okay, Cas?” Dean asked in that macho voice of his, gaze searching him concernedly.

Castiel blinked away his weariness and said, “I’m fine.”

“Why are you sitting there, then?”

Castiel realized that he and Dean were the only living organisms on the field, the ground littered with stinking corpses and excess amounts of blood.

Castiel slowly rose to his full height, Dean following him to his feet.

And Castiel realized that the exact thing he was trying to avoid was happening.

He was alone with Dean.

As they walked, Dean said unprompted, “I’m sorry.”

Castiel thought back to a little while ago, when he went to the bunker upon request. He was there all night searching for a way to stop these zombies, and he sensed Dean was in distress.

Dean was having a nightmare, and Castiel peeked inside his bedroom. Dean assured him he was fine, then said the exact same words. An apology with infinite meanings.

Why was he repeating it? To somehow make everything better? To make everything magically reset again?

Nice try.

“For what?” Castiel dared to ask, tiptoeing over corpses that Gabriel would have to make disappear before morning.

“For being me,” Dean said.

Castiel thought for a moment, focusing on getting out of the field.

‘For being me.’ Hm.

There was so much in those three little words. So much to analyze and unpack and understand.

It took for the worst to happen for Dean to see the consequences to his actions. It had been a problem that was building and building for years, and now that Castiel realized his self-worth, Dean was having second thoughts.

Castiel would never subject himself to being a lovesick idiot again, no matter what changed with Dean’s mindset. That was a solemn promise, one that he vowed to himself right then and there.

Castiel was no man’s love interest, least of all Dean Winchester’s last resort.

Apologizing did not change a single thing in Castiel’s mind. He was still going to die after the zombie problem was cleaned up. He was going to sacrifice himself to his reaper and sleep in the eternal Empty, facing his past mistakes head-on as penance.

Dean wanted to kill Jack, and that was where Castiel’s love for Dean ended. Full stop.

When Jack died, Castiel burned his emotions with his son’s funeral pyre. Never again would Castiel lose sight of his mission.

They reached the road, where the Impala was parked. Sam clicked open the door, and Castiel chose to say nothing to Dean.

————

Providence, Rhode Island

 

“Gotta love these town names,” Gabriel scoffed as they rode past a sign. “Fucking Chuck and his jokes.”

“Careful,” Castiel said through his helmet as he revved the motorcycle, “he could hear us if you say his name.”

“That’s only Voldemort,” Gabriel countered.

When they arrived early outside the town hall building, Castiel leaned against the motorcycle and asked, “are you seeing Sam?”

Gabriel popped off his helmet, his expression inscrutable. “We just saw him. I don’t know what you mean.”

“Lebanon,” Castiel said pointedly.

Gabriel sighed, leaning against his own motorcycle. His head tipped towards the sky, and he said, “so what if I am?”

“Has there been a change in your relationship status?” Castiel asked, unable to help a teasing half-smile.

Gabriel turned the full weight of his gaze towards Castiel in pure shock. He caught the smile and scoffed. “Since when did you become such a little shit?”

“You’re kidding, right?”

Gabriel barked out a short laugh. “Okay, you caught Driel’s Freudian slip. Now what?”

“Nothing,” Castiel shrugged, “just for the sake of full disclosure.”

Gabriel narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “If you tell on me, I swear I’ll throw you off a cliff.”

“I won’t. And besides,” Castiel reminded him, “I have my wings back. That wouldn’t work out well for you.”

“Wow,” Gabriel grinned, “for the longest time, I thought you didn’t have a personality. Speaking of which,” he made a random hand motion, “what’s going on with you and Dean? Why the cold shoulder?”

“I don’t want to go into it,” Castiel said non-negotiably, choosing to stare at a collection of bare trees across the town hall. “You really don’t want to hear what I have to say.”

“It has to do with Jack,” Gabriel asked softly, “doesn’t it?”

Castiel gritted his teeth. “Don’t, Gabe. Don’t.”

Gabriel frowned deeply. “You aren’t dealing with it. You need to.”

“The pain of losing my son isn’t going to go away,” Castiel said. “I will carry it always.”

“I know,” Gabriel said meekly, “but this has to do with something else too. What is it?”

“I don’t want to do this right now,” Castiel huffed, staring at the sky and wishing something would whisk him away from this moment.

When nothing did, Gabriel said, “come on. Level with me here. You know about me and Sam. What is it with you and Dean?”

Castiel stared at the trees, absorbing the gnarled branches and dead wood. The bark was peeling off, chunks disappearing into the dirt.

Castiel pointed at the tree. “That’s us.”

Gabriel squinted. “I...don’t follow.”

“When those trees were younger,” Castiel said numbly, “they had so much potential. It would have been so easy to grow. But then winter came, and another winter, and another winter. I did not waver, but he continued to disappoint me.” His tone turned as cold as the air. “One winter, I had had enough. One winter, he pushed just a little too far, and I realized what a fool I was for hoping we could grow in the first place.” He sighed. “So that’s what we are now. Dead trees.”

Gabriel was silent for a long moment, and Castiel tore his gaze from the trees.

“Should I murder him?” Gabriel asked flippantly.

Castiel blinked. “No. Murder isn’t necessary.”

“I think it is,” Gabriel chimed. “Should I get Sam in on this? He probably has more than enough grudges against Dean to go for it.”

“No.”

Gabriel sighed. “Fine. No murder. Should I be worried about...well, everything? Did I make a mistake with Sam?”

“No,” Castiel insisted. “Sam’s not the problem here. At least he, you know, asks about me and cares.”

“And Dean doesn’t?” Gabriel furrowed his brows. “That doesn’t seem right. The way he was looking at you the other day...but I guess that doesn’t matter.”

“What?”

Gabriel’s eyes flickered to Castiel’s. “Don’t hate me for saying this, but...I think Dean really does care. More than cares. He just hides it, that’s all.”

Castiel thought of Dean’s blush, and lingering stares, and awkward ticks. He couldn’t afford to think of such things. His mind was made up, and he refused to let Dean do this to him again.

Castiel decided, “that’s his problem, not mine.”

He thinks he saw a glimmer of pride in Gabriel’s eyes before he turned away.

There was the roar of a car engine, and Castiel put it to the back of his mind.

————

Prosperity, Indiana

 

“Driel!” Castiel exclaimed hoarsely, struggling to claw out of a horde of zombies.

The sound of a blade hitting rotting skin preceded a roar and a body falling to the ground, dead once again.

That gave Castiel the opening he needed to pluck both pistols from his trench coat, enjoying the feel of warm metal in his palms.

He cocked both guns nowhere in particular, sensing zombies drop dead the more he fired. He was soon able to breathe, and his head swiveled towards Balthazar.

Castiel grabbed the hilt of Samandriel’s blade and, with timed precision, threw it in the middle of a zombie’s forehead. Balthazar’s eyes widened as it fell, and he beamed at Castiel while laughing boisterously.

Gabriel caught the remaining two zombies in his orbit, and in a maneuver that defied gravity, both of their necks were snapped by his arms and legs respectively.

“Show off!” Samandriel called out.

Balthazar appeared beside Gabriel, breezily putting bullets in both zombies, should they decide to snap their necks back into place.

The air was still, and Gabriel declared, “drinks on me!”

Castiel was suddenly shoved into the back of Samandriel’s truck, and Gabriel ushered him inside the nearest bar. They quickly made the blood on their clothes disappear before they went to the barstools.

As a beer was shoved into Castiel’s hands, he sensed a pair of eyes on him. He ignored them for now.

“Have any of you seen the witch lately?” Balthazar inquired.

“Why?” Gabriel’s brow shot up. “You interested?”

Balthazar scoffed. “You know I prefer the fairer sex. And by that I mean men.”

“Why ask, then?” Samandriel said confusedly.

“Curiosity,” Balthazar said.

“She’s in Arkansas following a lead on a more permanent weapons solution,” Castiel answered.

“Ah,” Balthazar said, “that would be nice.”

“Cassie,” Gabriel said discreetly, “there’s a guy staring at you.”

“What are his defining features?” Castiel asked, drinking his beer.

All three angels blinked at him in complete and utter shock.

“Wait,” Balthazar said, “you’re serious?”

“I thought you were,” Samandriel blushed, “a virgin.”

Castiel snorted. “Nope.”

“Damn,” Gabriel grinned, “I didn’t know that. Good for you, Cassie.”

“His defining features,” Castiel reminded him.

“Ah,” Gabriel recounted, “light brown hair and blue eyes.”

Castiel was glad the man didn’t have blonde hair and green eyes. He set down the beer. “What do you think? Should I talk to him?”

“Yes,” Balthazar said instantly. “He looks real kissable.”

Castiel rolled his eyes and slid off the barstool. The man looked nothing like Dean, and he met Castiel’s gaze easily as he approached.

It was as easy as saying hello. It was almost too easy.

Castiel refused to feel bad about it. He controlled his own actions.

Despite flirting a little, Castiel didn’t feel the need to go further. They shared a beer, they laughed, and that was it. That was enough for now.

It was nice to know that Dean didn’t monopolize his emotions. Castiel could do whatever he wished.

To be honest, the realization was a relief.

————

Fall River, Massachusetts

 

Four angels and a witch bought two rooms at the main motel in town to look normal. But they soon gathered in one of the rooms to discuss the string of murders occurring throughout the town at night.

“They’re started to become predictable,” Gabriel observed. “The pattern of only attacking near midnight? That can’t be a coincidence.”

“In fact,” Samandriel checked a watch, “they come out of the woods at exactly 11:58 pm.”

Balthazar blinked. “Huh. Never noticed that. Good one.”

“Does Chuck want us to know this,” Castiel asked, “or is he really forming a pattern that could be combatted?”

“Are you saying,” Gabriel’s eyes widened, “he’s giving us a chance to win?”

“Or,” Rowena said, “he’s trying to wear us down.”

There was a knocking on the wall, and they jumped.

“You guys are loud,” a familiar deep voice said.

There was the sound of another man sighing deeply, followed by the sound of footsteps coming to their door.

Gabriel went over to the front door, and Samandriel hissed, “what are you doing?”

Gabriel snickered and opened the door, Sam hanging in the doorframe awkwardly.

“Hi,” Sam said with a throat clear, “sorry about Dean. He hasn’t slept in four days.”

Castiel frowned in disgust, turning the other cheek once Dean popped his head through the door.

“You need to speak quieter,” Dean advised. “Literally anyone could hear you.”

His gaze did a quick sweep of the room, and held on Castiel’s form for an extra few beats. Castiel didn’t miss a millisecond of the gravity of Dean’s eyes burning into him. Castiel was turned away, studying Rowena as she set her predatory gaze on Sam.

“Hello, big man,” Rowena giggled, and Castiel felt as disgusted as Sam.

Sam simply winced, and Castiel watched Gabriel glance between them with immense concern.

So far, though, Sam and Gabriel were doing a good job at hiding their relationship. With this group, Castiel was glad they chose that route. He never knew how certain people would react to the development.

Certain people being Dean.

“So we’re tracking the same thing, huh?” Gabriel said, deciding to change the subject to something more casual.

Both parties agreed to work together, and it took two days to find the zombie nest. Since there were so many people, they split up into duos or trios to stake out on the third night.

Before Castiel could get asked to pair with Dean, he stood by Sam and didn’t say a word. Sam simply nodded and ushered them into the Impala.

Now parked on the main road beside the endless woods, Castiel and Sam sat in silence.

It was a silence that Castiel didn’t want to ever break, but he knew that Sam wasn’t one to timidly allow it to continue.

For once, they were in the Impala without Dean. There was no rock music playing, and the hum of the engine was gone to conserve gas. The car was completely still and silent.

Sam’s breath tensed, and Castiel stared out the windshield, knowing what was coming.

“I’m on your side, you know,” Sam said quietly.

Castiel exhaled through his nose, tipping his head back a little. “How long have you known?”

“Since the ‘profound bond’ line,” Sam replied.

Castiel laughed, a weak whisper of a thing. Sam furrowed his brows and folded in on himself as if afraid.

“Are you okay?” Sam murmured. “I...I know you’re not, but...I mean with...everything...it’s been rough.”

“But I gave you Gabe,” Castiel said. “At least you have that.”

Sam winced. “How long have you known about that?”

Castiel didn’t answer. “I won’t tell. I’m good at keeping secrets.” A beat. “I’m just glad one of us is happy.”

Sam sighed. “It should’ve been you, Cas. I wish I could do something to...change it.”

“Nothing can change it,” Castiel said factually. “It’s too late for that.”

“You won’t change your mind...about leaving once it’s over?”

Castiel shook his head. “My mind is made up. Sorry. It’s not you. You’ve been a good friend.”

“You’ve been a good friend too. But, Cas,” Sam sighed again, “Dean’s starting to feel something for you.”

Castiel knew that back when Gabriel observed it in Providence. He knew it, and he was willing to condemn Dean like he had been condemned for over a decade.

It’s not that he wanted Dean to hurt, but he should know what he lost, and what he could have had.

“I’ll tell you what I told Gabe,” Castiel said, “that’s his problem. Not mine.”

“You really want to leave,” Sam said softly, “don’t you?”

Castiel turned away so he couldn’t see the glistening hurt in Sam’s eyes. “It’s not you. I’ve been through too much. I just,” Castiel sighed, then admitted, “I’m tired.”

He saw Sam nod, as if agreeing with him. “I won’t try to stop you. Everyone else will,” Sam promised, “but I won’t stop you.”

————

Lebanon, Kansas

 

“-not know how much this hurts?! It hurts like nothing else ever has!”

At Dean’s impassioned words, Castiel paused in the bunker hallway. He hadn’t been here in so long that he wanted to arrive for dinner. It wouldn’t make things better, but Castiel wanted to show good will.

And Castiel was also hoping he would catch Gabriel here with Sam, so he could make a smug comment and fly away.

But mostly for the previous thing.

Even though Dean’s bedroom door was closed, Castiel could hear his voice clear through the steel. He saw no harm in leaning against the door and listening.

“-tell him?” Sam asked.

“I can’t do that! He won’t even look at me!” Dean exploded.

“I don’t blame him,” Sam said, a little quieter.

“What? Was I supposed to get my shit together at an earlier date?”

“Basically, yeah,” Sam replied.

“You know how that sounds, right?”

“It’s the truth. You missed your chance, Dean. And that’s that.”

“That is not that!” Dean exclaimed defiantly. “There has to be something I can do!”

“You’ve done enough, I think,” Sam said tiredly.

Dean was silent, and Castiel expected those words popped him like a balloon, until he deflated in a mass of elastic on the ground.

Dean’s voice was gentle and soft when he spoke again. “I’m such a fucking fuck-up, Sam.”

Castiel blasted open the steel door, catching Sam’s incredulous gape and Dean’s wide-eyed shyness.

“Don’t use me as an excuse to pile onto your own self-hatred,” Castiel growled. “It got old years ago.”

“Cas,” Dean breathed, his eyes glistening, “how much of that did you hear?”

In as little as a year ago, Castiel would have killed to see Dean looking at him the way he was now. But now, it just made Castiel want to laugh at what a fool he was before.

Loving Dean Winchester was never going to end well, even if Dean did reciprocate. So Castiel was choosing his own ending, one that lessened the pain by the slightest bit.

Sam rose from the bed and slipped away, Castiel letting him sneak past. Castiel, meanwhile, crossed the threshold of Dean’s bedroom, but didn’t make to sit.

“I understand how you feel,” Castiel said, “but I don’t know what to tell you.”

“Tell me,” Dean said weakly, “that we can try.”

“I told you when Jack died,” Castiel said blankly, Dean wincing at the mention of him, “I’ve fallen out of love with you.”

Dean’s lip quivered, and his eyes glistened as they looked down. “There’s no way to fix it?”

“This isn’t something that can be fixed. I’m not your car. I’m a person.”

Dean blinked up at Castiel, and he was in pure agony. “Nothing can change your mind? Nothing?”

“Nothing,” Castiel confirmed. “And don’t use this as an excuse to get wasted and fuck whoever you want. Don’t spiral like an idiot, and handle it like a normal person. If I can, you can.”

Dean stared at Castiel incredulously, absorbing his words slowly.

He smiled bitterly. “Oh, I am a fool.”

Castiel left the bedroom before he could ruminate on the love confession that went unsaid.

He would be strong. He would move forward. He would stay on mission. He would fight the zombies and save the world and die a hero.

That was the story that Castiel wanted to be told.